Dystopian fiction has become steadily more relevant to our lives since the publication of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, given the ever increasing anxieties surrounding surveillance, terrorism and the dwindling domain of what is considered ‘private’. Perhaps this explains its enduring popularity as a genre, most recently with the likes of Utopia and The Hunger Games.
Edgar and Annabel, The King’s Players’ new production, is comparable to all of the above in some ways, but has more in common with Charlie Brooker’s thrilling and unique TV series Black Mirror. This, I assure you, is the highest compliment I can give.
The play is centred around the two ‘title characters’ (the inverted commas, as you will see, are justified) and takes place in a dystopian Britain where audio surveillance has crept into every home in the land, under the control of an insidious, invisible government.
It’s visual aesthetic is well-honed and expertly deployed throughout – a mixture of sterile, 1950s America-esque ‘happy family’ home life and unsettling sci-fi darkness. This contrapuntal aesthetic is essential in establishing the creepiness that defines the atmosphere of the play, and is not only evident in the brilliant set design, but also into the costume design and props. From the moment the play begins, the audience is locked into this eerie landscape. This effective creation of an unsettling atmosphere is reminiscent of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.
Returning to Black Mirror, Edgar and Annabel is so comparable to this piece because of its deft and seamless addition of dark humour to the play. The humour is heavily visual – given that all that the characters say is being closely monitored – and consistently hits the mark, a difficult balance to pull off in such bleak territory.
Speaking of the characters – the performances are universally entertaining throughout, but special praise must be lauded onto the play’s two leads. An endearing natural chemistry is evident between Edgar/Nick (Alexander Watson) and Annabel/Marianne (Jackie Edwards), which makes their arc throughout the play tender and heartbreaking, and left the audience silently stunned during the play’s final scenes.
As an audio nerd, I was also particularly impressed with the play’s sound design. Warped samples of dialogue and music are intertwined to remarkably impressive effect for a student production. Not to mention, of course, the karaoke scene, which expertly treads the line between horror and hilarity.
Edgar and Annabel is thrillingly well staged and comfortably sits amongst its dystopian contemporaries. Its dark humour will have you laughing in the theatre but keep you awake all night at home – a terrifying delight.